PASADENA — For first-year St. Francis High boys’ basketball co-Coaches Jeff Stephens and Ray O’Brien, things seemed awkward.
For many years, the duo helped prepare many of the current La Cañada players to achieve success. For the first time since Stephens and O’Brien left for St. Francis last summer, they got to see their former pupils compete up close against the Golden Knights.
The final result didn’t favor St. Francis, which suffered a 57-46 loss to neighbor La Cañada on Monday night in a semifinal contest of the La Salle/Temple City Holiday Classic at La Salle.
La Cañada (10-2) will face Alhambra or Montebello in the tournament’s championship contest at 7:30 p.m. today at La Salle. St. Francis (7-3) will compete at 6 in the third-place game against Alhambra or Montebello at the same venue.
“It was an awkward game,” said Stephens, whose team trailed throughout the entire contest. “We know their players, but it was fun.
“We were a little nervous, and maybe there was a lid on the basket. We showed that we can compete with a team that’s good and well-coached.”
The Spartans, who stretched their winning streak to seven, picked up 16 points and 10 rebounds from senior guard Clarke Anderson and 18 points from guard Rocky Moore to deflate a St. Francis squad that entered Monday’s game with tournament victories against Arcadia and La Salle. La Cañada made eight three-pointers, including five in the first half to help build a 27-15 halftime advantage.
The Golden Knights played better in the second half, but couldn’t catch the talented Spartans and saw their four-game winning streak conclude.
Veteran La Cañada Coach Tom Hofman, who has earned more than 400 victories with the program and endorsed O’Brien and Stephens to St. Francis, said the Golden Knights have shown improvement.
“They’ve got good athletes and a good team,” Hofman said. “Give them credit and they know basketball.
“We played three very good quarters and a bad fourth quarter. We missed a couple of easy shots and couldn’t handle the ball.”
St. Francis got 12 points from senior guard Malik Speed, including eight in the second half. Junior guards Spencer Nieves and Tommy Jordan each had seven points for the Golden Knights, who got six points and a team-high 10 rebounds from junior guard Dietrich Riley.
Nieves made a jump shot to cut La Cañada’s lead to 49-40 with 1:09 left in the contest. However, the Spartans outscored the Golden Knights, 8-6, the remainder of the way.
“I think we started playing with some instincts [during the second half],” said Stephens, whose team recorded seven steals.